Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Redefining Relationship

How our relationships teach us about ourselves

Many of us are looking to change something in our lives.  Have less stress and anxiety, feel better, be happier, increase confidence, know our life path, and more.   Yoga and meditation are really fantastic tools to help us with these things and so much has been written on how and why they help.  So I won’t focus on that here.  But if we really want to change our external world and not just our internal world, we need to take what we learn in our practice and bring it out into the world and the path to doing this is through relationship.

To do this, we start to become more mindful and aware of our relationships.  We have a relationship with everything.  We have a relationship with our partner, our friends, our kids, co-workers, “strangers,” money, the unknown, our home, nature, technology, our possessions, everything.  We can’t fully know ourselves unless we know ourselves in relationship to “other.”  It is so easy to continually seek the peace we can find on the mat or the cushion, but then it can become an escape, something we do outside of our world.  When our practice is only solitary and focused on seeking peace, it is easy to become trapped in our own patterns and our practice is disconnected from the world.  When we take that present focused, open, curious, non-judgmental attitude of our practice out into the world and into our relationships, we are able to more fully see ourselves.

Most writing on relationship is targeted  toward lovers simply because this is sadly the only relationship many of us are willing to risk intimacy with, and even then many of us still don’t.  But it is a huge mistake to withhold or limit our intimacy.  Through intimacy, honesty, and awareness, relationship is a huge mirror for us to really see ourselves in ways we are able to ignore when we try to do it all ourselves. 

Michael Stone, in his book Awake in the World writes:
Yoga is the expression of intimacy in every one of our actions in three spheres: body, speech, and mind.  Intimacy does not simply refer to sex. I translate the word yoga as “intimacy” to connote the fact that everything is inherently contingent on everything else, from the basic molecules and strings that hold the world together all the way to the familial bonds that give rise to families and character.  When we see that interconnectedness runs through each and every thing we encounter, we begin to see that entering our lives fully is the deepest kind of intimacy we can ever encounter (emphasis added).  In fact, in order to heal, we need to find an intimate connection to whatever it is that ails us.

When we expand our definition of relationship, we can choose to be in authentic, intimate relationship with anybody or anything.  Just as intimacy is not about sex, authentic, intimate relationship need not be limited to just one person as we so often assume.  To be in authentic relationship takes trust, openness, honesty, and willingness.  We can say to ourselves, “I’m not going to be authentic with this person because I don’t trust them,” but really that is just placing blame and responsibility for our trust on someone else.  Ultimately, we only need to be trusting, willing, and open with ourselves.

The first step is being fully honest and intimate in our relationship with ourselves.  By sitting with ourselves in acceptance of whatever we are feeling, in the calm, peace, and happiness we seek, but also the agitation, fear, judgments, aloneness, sadness, and frustration.  For years I used to use mindfulness practice such as yoga and meditation as a form of disassociation – I would just concentrate on something as a way to block out what I was really feeling.  There is value in being able to not identify and define ourselves by our thoughts and feelings, but we can’t just ignore them forever either.  I was being distant with myself, rather than intimate.  I would dismiss feelings or negative parts of myself as being undesirable.  But this is a goldmine of information and exactly what we need to pay attention to in order to move closer to what we are seeking.  As they say, “The only way out is through.”

John Wellwood writes, “Each of us has these two forces at work inside us: an embryonic wisdom that wants to blossom from the depths of our being, and the imprisoning weight of our karmic patterns. From birth to death, these two forces are always at work, and our lives hang in the balance. Since human nature always contains these two sides, our journey involves working with both.”  When we can be with ourselves fully and look at our patterns, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t, and be with whatever we are feeling with acceptance and curiosity, we can then bring our practice into the world.  And through this intimate knowing of our patterns, we are able to take them off auto pilot and touch more deeply the peace and wisdom that we seek through our practice.

Once we begin deepening the relationship with ourselves, we can become more aware in our relationship with our partner or closest friends.  When we can take this same level of intimacy to our relationships with other people, we can start to see even more clearly our patterns and how they help us and how they limit us.  Through speaking our truth in the moment, we expose ourselves in ways we can’t in solitary practice.  We can then see the reactions, reflections, and support of the “other” which helps us work more fully with what is inside of us.

The one who has a good
friend doesn't need any mirror.  ~Rumi

We can choose to be intimate – that is open, honest, and vulnerable with whomever or whatever we want.  And it is through this type of relationship that we become more fully exposed to and aware of our programming as we move through our daily lives.  As we do this, is important too to be gentle, patient, and loving with ourselves too, as we start to see ourselves more clearly.  It is only with this patience and self-love that we can start to change our patterns. If we fight them or dislike them, they only grow stronger.  And by being more transparent with others, we open ourselves up to the possibility of healing through being seen and accepted even in the things we don’t want people to see.

Being someone who tops the charts on the Meyers-Briggs introversion scale, I can tell you that it is scary to risk sharing in this way with even those closest to us.  And I know it is scary for the extroverts too, this level of deep sharing.  But when we bring this practice into our relationships, we get real world application, we get triggered, and we get to look in the mirror in a much stronger way then we will ever achieve practicing alone.  I have found the benefits are well worth the risk and fear.  It is a practice in and of itself to try to do this consistently.

Every moment of our day is ripe with reflections of our patterns and opportunities to practice.  For example, just today I was talking to someone who knows I bike commute most of the time and he said “Be careful at the bike rack, if I rode today.” With those last four words, I noticed myself get tense, my throat clenched, my arms and shoulders pulled slightly in, and my stomach tightened.  I chose not to respond to his statement and admit that I drove, but rather changed the subject to something else.  I later asked myself “What was that about?” It was not the first time I’ve seen myself do that, and I realized it was one of my old patterns of wanting to be liked and wanting to be seen as a “good person” so my strategy is to not say anything that could disprove that.  In this case, I want to be seen as someone who selflessly rides my bike everywhere for the environment, but the truth is I drive sometimes, and feel bad about it or maybe I feel bad about not living up to my image of myself.  By witnessing myself in that interaction I got to see my pattern shown to me, but I missed out on being honest about my decision to drive, which may have led to him admitting that he did too, or maybe even reassuring me I’m not a horrible person because I drove today.

The more we choose to be honest, authentic, and intimate, the more reflections we get, the more clearly we are able to see ourselves, and the more chances we get to escape from our patterns.  Each time we choose to be intimate, we get a reflection that is colored by the person or object that is reflecting.  So to really see ourselves clearly in relationship, the more reflections the better so we can start to sort out what is ours, what is theirs, and what doesn’t need to be there anymore.

The deep exploration of ourselves leads to deeper relationships with people and the world.  And deeper relationships with the world lead to deeper exploration of ourselves.  There is no separation. To focus on one to the neglect of the other leaves us only seeing part of the picture.  So let’s have courage and trust in ourselves to be more fully open and intimate with all our relations – in our relationship with ourselves and with “other,” so we can bring the changes we seek both within ourselves and out into the world.


What do you think?  Let's continue the conversation! You can find me at www.innerlifeadventures.com or email c@innerlifeadventures.com.  Want to meet?  Here's how.

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